Written by Tina Bauer
As a former foster youth and adoptee estranged from her biological family for nearly two decades, I absolutely believe in biological family connection when safe and healthy. But, as I look at my own story and many others, I cannot help but think about when it is not.
It is very common for individuals who have adopted children to ask me for advice on how to have a relationship with abusive first families. They want to cultivate a sense of identity for their child, which I completely understand. But I see that so often there is this extreme pressure for adoptees, former foster youth, or kids/teens in care to have a “relationship” with abusive first families because it is “supposed to be that way.” Nobody who has or cares for a child that is not their own wants to be the person who denies them connection to their biology.
Let us step back and put a few things in perspective before rushing to push children to have relationships with people who hurt them, biological or not. Ideally, we are supposed to know our first families and not be in your home. Our life wasn’t “supposed” to go this way, and so we are already operating in an extremely abnormal situation which means that relationships with our first family will not look “normal”. But, sometimes it is not safe. Please be careful to not let the obligation of your child being adopted or having been in foster care push you to have them associate or have a relationship with an abusive family.
Imagine this: if you take adoption out of the picture and you knew your friend had an abusive family you probably would not encourage them to have a relationship with the unsafe individuals.
Adoption and foster care children should not be obligated to know their first families when it is unsafe and/or unhealthy. It is important to note that “unsafe” does not mean their lives are vastly different from yours. Although they can be scary and unknown, it doesn’t mean they are “dangerous”.
If you are reading this and thinking, “This is where I am at,” then I strongly encourage you to seek an outside trusted perspective and begin therapy for yourself and the children in your care. Why? Because I can share from personal experience that it is perhaps one of the most degrading experiences to learn and know that the individuals you are related to are not safe. It is very easy for adoptive or foster youth to adopt an identity of: “I will be just like them” or “I am not worthy.”
If you are an adoptive or foster parent, I encourage you to not withhold information about who your child’s first families are. We deserve to have our questions answered and have access to information about our biology. We may accept or refuse the information, but either way you are the gatekeeper of our story and you must advocate for us.